What are the qualities you’d like to see in a leader of your organization? Stop for a second and think about it for a minute or two. Chances are that at least a few of the answers are synonymous with strength, intelligence, ruthlessness, the ability to distance oneself from emotion and the ability to make hard decisions.
Now, what are the qualities you associate with men more than women?
Fair or not, most Americans use the same stereotypes to describe leaders as they do men. At least, more so than they do women. And this difference remains a barrier to women climbing the corporate ladder, according to a meta-analysis conducted by researchers from Northwestern University.
I think it’s always kind of assumed that men still have this advantage; that when women display these leadership characteristics they are thought of as bitches, cold-hearted or less feminine. Or that some people still assume women are not even capable of displaying the characteristics required of someone in an executive position. So it’s nice when a study actually backs up this assumption. There’s proof behind the position.
A meta-analysis involves taking data from a whole bunch of individual studies and putting them together to get a clearer picture of big trends. In this particular study, Alice Eagly and her co-authors took data from 69 studies on three different paradigms. One looked at the think manager-think male paradigm, or the similarity of male and leader stereotypes; the second involved the agency-communion paradigm, or the stereotypes of leaders’ agency and communion; and the third looked at the masculinity-femininity paradigm, or stereotypes of leadership-related occupations on a single masculinity–femininity dimension.
As noted, the results showed that the stereotypes associated with men and leaders still overlap while those of women and leaders, not so much.
There is a bright side, however. The study showed that this stereotypical advantage for men has decreased a lot in the past couple of decades. And though it’s certainly no consolation prize, the issue is pretty much non-existent for lower-level leadership roles and leadership roles in education.
But there’s still a long way to go.